Wednesday, March 28, 2007


Christmas day, 1990. She was a gift to Tori, a consolation for having to share the limelight with a new little brother. We put the wriggling little puppy into a tin salad bowl under the tree, and threw a cloth over her, just as the five-year-old Tori came in to examine Santa's work. I don't remember which of them got the cloth off. It didn't take long.

Today I put one hand under her upper ribs, one hand under her foreleg. Braced carefully to take the weight. She stands trembling, her head low, her tail down stiffly between her legs. Six steps to get down from the porch to the back yard. She can't quite nerve herself to take that first step. But there's no way to convince her that it would be okay, for the last few weeks of her life, to pee on the porch. I'm the same man who, sixteen years ago, sternly taught her how wrong it is to pee anywhere but outside. Her whole life has been lived under that commandment. And she's in no mood to learn new lessons. She's old and in pain and she has to pee very badly. So we have to go down the steps.

Finally she takes the first step. I catch her. Her hindquarters are already wet and reeking. She starts to fall sideways. Her hips have no strength nowadays. I manage to catch her, and she stands trembling again. Five more steps to go.

That characteristic slide forward of the hindquarters. Reminds me something -- what? Of course. When she was a puppy. She'd gallop with delight down the hall, but her hind legs were growing so much faster than her front that they made better time: they'd outpace her front legs, overtake them, and after a few yards she'd spin out on the linoleum, revolving like a racecar whose tires have lost their grip on the speedway. She never quite understood why it happened; she'd get herself pointed the right way again, dash forward, and spin out again.

She takes another step. It's getting harder. I can't carry her. I'm not strong enough -- she's a big dog -- to carry her without putting pressure on her abdomen. But finally we get to the last step. It's only a half step, but I still have to guard her. Last time she made a break for it, thinking she was all the way down the stairs, and fell heavily on her tumor-laden belly. This time she's more cautious, and I'm more wary. She sags but doesn't quite fall. Staggers a couple steps onto the grass, and squats.

Strong dark urine, smelling powerfully, spurts between her legs. Damn. She's got that bacterial infection again. Shell out more money on antibiotics, trash the environment again, do yet another outrage on her digestive system? Maybe it's time to quit. Her life has begun to revolve around the ordeal of the porch steps.

But as I'm thinking that, she finishes up, and suddenly she's happy. She waddles contentedly to the fence and gives it a good long sniff. That new black and white cat, probably. She noses happily through the grass, looking for left-behind crow treats. Not quite steady on her legs, but she can still get along, on the flat.

Back inside to change her bedding while I've got the chance, replace the incontinence pads, throw this afternoon's blanket into the wash, pull this morning's blanket out of the dryer.

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